Funeral rituals in ancient Egypt were more than random practices. They were rooted in inherently mystical and mythological beliefs. Each of which had its reverence in Egyptian culture, society, and belief system. Contrary to popular assumptions and terminology, burial practices in ancient Egypt were part and parcel of an Egyptian costume.
These rituals were sacred operations that included many logistics and elaborated practices, spanning over several days and weeks at times. Basic rituals included creating and designing massive tombstones, practicing magic spells, and the procedure of Mummification. All these practices mattered to Egyptians because the afterlife was not an end of the path but a beginning of journeys. Furthermore, it was believed that those who would end up in the field of reeds would live a celebrated and better life after death. Thus, to end up in the field of reeds, it was essential to practice all these rituals with dedication and reverence. Therefore, the farewell from real life and birth in the afterlife had to be the most important ritual for ancient Egypt.
The mythology behind the field of reeds
It is also called a field of offerings. Since there is no suffering in the field of reeds, it is a place of absolute and pure pleasure – of a kind that lasts forever.
Therefore, to enter the field of reeds, it was essential to practice sacred burial rituals properly. Moreover, according to popular belief soul was divided into several parts, as follows:
- Khat was the physical body.
- Ka was a doppelganger or deceased.
- Ba was the human-avian conduit between real life and the afterlife.
- Akh was a transformed immortal self.
- Sechem was a part of Akh.
- Tuyet was a shadow self.
- Sahu was also a part of Akh.
- Ren was the secret name.
- Ab was the ‘heart’ or the source of all good and bad actions.
The afterlife story goes this way: The god Anubis collects Akh and guides it to the hall of truth, where it is examined and judged by Osiris. Osiris is the judge of the dead or celebrates as the ruler of the underworld in popular terms. Osiris weighs the Ab or heart of soul against the feather of Ma’at on a grad gold platted weighing scale. If the scale is heavier than the weight of feather of Ma’at, then the soul would be punished. However, if it’s an otherwise case, then the soul would be judged by 42 further judges and gods. Eventually, only worthy and successful souls enter the field of reeds.
Process of Mourning and Lamentations
Mourning and Lamentation are considered a significant part of ancient Egyptian funerals. The louder one laments, the better it is for the deceased. However, even these practices were dependent upon social class and dead standing or stature in society.
In an elite household, proper arrangements would be made for mourning and wailing. Since ancients used to believe that voice of mourning can reach the deceased. For days and weeks, servants, friends, and family will gather to mourn. In some cases, even professional mourners were hired, known as “kites of Nephthys.” They will lament and regret the glorious spectacle.
The lower or poor class of Egyptian society couldn’t afford such kindness; however, they would still perform all these rituals in a limited capacity with whatever resources were available.
The process of Mummification
The process of Mummification was binding to all Egyptians regardless. The rich in society would certainly get additional and expensive embalmers than the poorer. The corpse was first transported to the embalmers, graded and rinsed with costly ingredients, such as pure myrrh, palm wine, and other preservative elements. Then the organs are removed properly following an intricate medical procedure.
The rich elite would then buy the linen they fit to wrap their dead. At the same time, the poor labor class was bound to use their clothes as wrapping linens. In addition to these traditions, ancients also used to place valuable possessions like religious objects, funerary texts, and the famous book of the dead in the coffin. This text was essential for providing the dead with some enjoyment in the afterlife.
Overall, each of these rituals had its symbolic reverence and importance. They were all a crucial part of the journey to the field of reeds. Given their sacredness in Egyptian culture, ancients used to respect them on a social and cultural level. According to the popular belief system, the dead would never rest in peace without performing these practices.